Wicker, Hyde-Smith lead effort to expand telehealth services

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Photo courtesy of Senators Roger Wicker & Cindy Hyde-Smith offices

U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith joined a bipartisan effort to expand telehealth services through Medicare as a means to improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers.

The Mississippi lawmakers, who serve on a Senate telehealth working group, are original cosponsors of the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019.  The bill was unveiled at a news conference on Wednesday.

“Telehealth has enabled more people to connect to quality care than ever before, helping to lower costs and improve outcomes,” Wicker said.  “This bipartisan legislation recognizes the success of telehealth programs in states like Mississippi, builds on past legislative achievements, and advances access to lifesaving tools for more Americans.”

“The usefulness and value of telehealth technologies continues to grow as more people benefit from this affordable health care delivery option.  This bipartisan bill would continue our work to tear down the barriers to telehealth.  Its enactment would help Mississippi, already a national leader in telemedicine outreach, deliver care to even more people, especially those in underserved and rural communities,” Hyde-Smith said.

The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 builds on the progress made in recent years to increase the use of telehealth through Medicare.  Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so more people can access health care services in their own homes.

The bill introduced today updates CONNECT for Health legislation first introduced in 2016 and builds on provisions that have been signed into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson has been a national leader in telehealth for more than a decade.  UMMC is one of more than 110 organizations endorsing the CONNECT for Health Act, including the American Medical Association (AMA), America’s Health Insurance Plans, National Association of Community Health Centers, and National Association of Rural Health Clinics.

“This legislation would benefit patients by removing antiquated restrictions in the Medicare program that prevent physicians from using widely available medical technology that has become commonplace in the past decade.  Increased access to telehealth is urgently needed to help meet the health needs of the swiftly changing demographics of our senior population.  The CONNECT for Health Act’s expansion of telehealth coverage in the Medicare program also will spur increased investment and innovation in delivery redesign to benefit all patients,” said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A.

Introduced by Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the bill is also cosponsored by Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).  A companion measure has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

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